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Fig Tree Health & Fig Mosaic Virus: They're Linked - Don't Miss This Step

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

Looking to boost the health of your fig tree? A healthy tree not only promises a richer fruit yield but also ensures fewer issues in the future. The connection between tree health and fruit production is undeniable.

In today's article, we'll delve into a crucial step you won't want to overlook.

But first, let's address a common oversight that can compromise a fig tree's health for its entire lifespan unless promptly rectified.

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Improving your Fig Tree's Health

It all starts from the beginning of a fig tree's life...

When propagating cuttings from a mother tree, it's intriguing that a significant number of the resulting trees can differ remarkably from the mother tree throughout their lifespan. This variation, I believe, is primarily due to the distinct nature of individual buds on a fig tree. Each bud has unique carbohydrate and hormone levels and can exhibit variations in the severity of the fig mosaic virus (FMV) and even undergo genetic mutations.

Many growers, including myself, have observed that after propagating fig trees from a cutting, they often sprout a robust shoot from their base and continue on throughout their life growing healthy. Still, some have an additional weaker shoot present, and others have only produced one frail shoot with subpar growth and fruit production. I believe this phenomenon is due to the differing levels of severity of the fig mosaic virus found within different parts of our fig trees.

Given these factors, I advocate for rejuvenation pruning, which involves removing undesired growth and problematic buds, which might be causing the tree to underperform.

You can find a full guide to rejuvenation pruning, here:

To ensure a healthy tree, I let each tree grow a bit wild in its early years after propagation. While some prefer allowing only a single shoot to grow when propagated from a cutting, I let multiple shoots thrive. This approach, lets me select the healthiest and most vigorous shoot, setting the stage for a prosperous tree in the long run.

Identifying an Unhealthy Fig Tree

For the tree's long-term health, it's common sense to eliminate the unhealthy growth. However, the challenge many face is distinguishing between healthy and unhealthy growth. If you're propagating a fig from a cutting, one definitive indication is the vigor of the shoot's growth. If one shoot is growing more robustly and fruiting more efficiently than the other, that's your clue.

Another way to gauge is by the fruit count and the growth pattern. If a particular shoot has sparse fruits and exhibits an unusual growth pattern, like closely spaced nodes or leaves, it's likely not the healthiest. A clear manifestation of the fig mosaic virus is evident on the leaves, which might show severe spotting, mottling, or deformities. All these signs hint at compromised tree health.

Photos comparing unhealthy wood to healthy wood:

Does the Virus Go Away on Its Own?

Making an uninformed decision to retain the unhealthy growth while discarding the healthy counterpart is detrimental to your fig tree. Such a tree would perpetually remain unhealthy due to inherent viral levels in each bud. Retaining a bud or trunk with higher viral concentration will undermine the tree's health.

Some growers argue that the virus is eventually outgrown and becomes a non-issue. This could not be further from the truth depending on the severity of the virus. For example, in a small case where only a small number of leaves display minor symptoms, they will eventually be outgrown, but if your tree’s structure is built on a house of cards, it can be very difficult to overcome a weak foundation.

Over the years of growing many fig trees, I am confident that rejuvenation pruning is a vital technique for setting up the long-term health or foundation of your fig tree. Each tree I grow is evaluated for health and to determine if a hard pruning is required. If the hard prune doesn’t yield the positive result I’m looking for, I try again the following year until a healthy tree is achieved.

In some cases, I’ve had unhealthy fig trees that did not recover until I pruned them 2 or 3 times. Sometimes patience is all that’s needed. Eventually, a hard prune does yield the results we’re looking for.

An example of a mild case of FMV:

One Warning

If your tree is young, not well established, and is growing poorly due to soil health and improper watering practices, I would not perform this technique until these requirements are met first. Hard pruning a weak tree could result in the death of your fig tree.

Does This Apply to Fig Trees Planted in the Ground?

This logic isn't confined to container-grown fig trees. Even those planted in the ground, which more frequently send up numerous shoots from the soil, follow the same principle. Always opt for the healthiest shoots and discard the rest. This ensures a faster-growing, healthier fig tree in the long run.

What if My Tree is Older? Can I Fix it?

If you find yourself with an ailing tree, a drastic prune might be the rescue.

To demonstrate, using my pruning shears, I'll cut make as low as possible right at the base, almost to the roots, to remove the entire unhealthy branch. Prune to wood that you believe is healthy.

When to Prune

It's better to prune during dormancy. However at any time during the growth phase, pruning can be performed. After displaying weak growth in the spring, I’ve totally turned around unhealthy fig trees that recover by summer. During the growing season, it's easier to identify the unhealthy parts. The leaves are a great indicator of severity.

Should I Propagate From Unhealthy Growth I’ve Cut?

My recommendation is to propagate only from the healthiest growth, as the branches, although of the same variety, will likely have differing levels of the virus, leading to inferior growth patterns or characteristics on your newly propagated tree.

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I'm Ross, the "Fig Boss." A YouTuber educating the world on the wonderful passion of growing fig trees. Apply my experiences to your own fig journey to grow the best tasting food possible.
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